GEMS Nations Academy, which opened in September 2016, is set to close its doors at the end of the academic year after only one year of operation. The school will " essentially merge with Dubai American Academy (DAA)", GEMS Education CEO Dino Varkey told Education Journal Middle East.
Dubai American Academy (DAA) will move to what is currently the GEMS Nations campus in September 2017. The school will be led by incoming principal Tammy Murphy, while GEMS Nations' founding principal Tom Farquhar will retire at the end of the current academic year.
When it launched in September, GEMS Nations Academy was promoted as the school operator's flagship school, offering "a new paradigm in education", which paired "innovative teaching methods with new digital communication tools".
Nations currently offers a "tri-lingual" curriculum, with English, Arabic ,and coding and computer programming all given equal importance. The pioneering curriculum integrates robotics, programming languages, and the Internet of Things into every classroom, starting from KG1. According to Varkey, "the transformative component is to infuse all of Nations' pillars into the DAA curriculum and offering."
While the two schools together will operate under the Dubai American Academy banner, Varkey maintains that "this will continue to be GEMS' flagship school, it will continue to fulfil the core promises that Nations stood for."
Commenting on the circumstances that led to the merger, Varkey pointed to difficult negotiations with Dubai American Academy's current landlord.
"We have been engaged in very difficult negotiations with the landlord at Dubai American Academy in terms of our ability to be able to continue on that track. We've been engaged in this for a long time now the fact that we're still engaged in these negotiations meant that there's a complete lack of visibility and predictability and that's frankly not a risk that we wanted to put DAA and our school community at."
He added: "What became very apparent was that even if we were able to renegotiate on the same site, there is no way we would have been able to upgrade or invest in the infrastructure of Dubai American Academy without disrupting the school. This is a 20-year old facility, it needs significant upgrades. We would not have been able to do that without disruption.
"When we actually looked at the relative strengths and weaknesses of Dubai American Academy and Nations, we genuinely believed that by putting both together, we had the ability to create something as a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts, and we were able to actually eradicate the challenges for both schools. For us, this feels like an incredibly compelling proposition where you're able to give the DAA community what they asked for, which is an infrastructure that is worthy of DAA's standing and reputation, but also the DAA community has been asking for a push towards innovation, a push towards a future focus curriculum, so we're able to give that to the DAA community. For Nations, as a new school, it would have taken us about five to seven years to fulfil the ambition we had. By giving them the DAA bedrock, it actually allows us to accelerate the proposition for the Nations offering. So the combination of the two is much more compelling than the two schools individually."
DAA students will benefit from facilities at GEMS Nations Academy, and phase two of the campus will be ready by July in order to accommodate all 2350 DAA students, Varkey said. While the new campus will not add significantly to DAA's capacity, Nations can accommodate up to 2700 students in total. Whether all 136 students currently enrolled at Nations will continue at the school next year remains to be seen.
Parents of Dubai American Academy were notified about the changes in a letter by the school's current superintendent Jim Hardin, who also noted the school would follow KHDA guidelines for any fee increases.
As the only American school to be rated Outstanding for five consecutive years, DAA would be eligible for a maximum fee increase of up to 4.8% in 2017, subject to KHDA approval and DSIB results. This should be welcome news for Nations families, where fees currently range from AED84,000 for KG1 to AED118,000 for Grade 8.
"All the families [from both schools] are effectively on a single fee level and there's a significant value we're going to give our Nations families, which on average works out to a 30-32% reduction in their fees," Varkey noted.
Nations also adopts a co-teacher model, with two full-time teachers allocated to each classroom. While DAA uses a teacher's aide model, Varkey said the school will continue to use the co-teacher model where applicable, adding that "all jobs at Nations are secure, their compensation benefits are secure and guaranteed until they are with us".
"The integration of both schools effectively gives us the ability to create a proposition that was even more compelling than the two schools individually," he added.